Forecast for November 19, 2018. Challenges to House Leadership; Changes to House Rules; and How New Members Will Shape Up.


House Dems scheduled leadership elections for next week, and everyone else elected their leadership last week. Details on who was elected and what’s going on with Dems elections are below.

A draft House rules summary was unveiled last week (WaPo published it), with potentially major changes in the lower chamber. House rules rarely change in significant ways. We’ve got a roundup below.

House progressives and Rep. Pelosi reached apparent agreement on support for Pelosi as Speaker in return for significant changes in House operations. These include: (1) progressives getting proportional representation on the “A” committees (Appropriations, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, and Intelligence); (2) more leadership spots; (3) adding a budget and staff to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. There’s also changes to the House rules in the mix. Still unclear is who gets to pick the progressives to serve on these committees.

House Republicans thwarted a vote on a resolution that would have ended US military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen; leadership used an unrelated resolution to de-privilege the Yemen resolution. If this sounds complicated, that’s the point, and it’s another example of House leadership “protecting” members from a hard vote. Casey Burgat explains how “special rules” underscore the power of leadership.

It’s freshman orientation for new House members, but despite a few good stories, there’s not a lot on what’s actually being taught to new members. It appears that Members-elect Instagram accounts are the best way to get the inside scoop. (Reminder: Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has been playing dirty politics.) So who are all these new members? The House Clerk helpfully (thank you!) has published an official list of the unofficials.

House Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference rules for the 115th Congress are here. While Republicans publish them on their website, House Dems do not, and this is the only place I know where to find them. You’re welcome. 🙂


Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the front runner for Speaker, but not everyone supports her. The anti-Pelosi faction’s leverage comes from the fact that election to the Speakership requires a majority of the votes cast in the House of Representatives by Members “for a person by name.” Matt Glassman has the details, but in effect a small rump of Dems, if they vote for someone else by name, could thwart her ascension.

House Democratic Caucus Rule 34 says a majority vote of the caucus binds all members of the caucus “[w]ith respect to voting in the House of Representatives for Speaker and other officers of the House.” In theory, Dems could punish the rump faction, but if the faction succeeds punishment is unlikely (as they are the kingmaker), and if the faction doesn’t have the votes to bring down Pelosi they’ll probable toe the line by voting present or abstaining.

A major underlying bone of contention is the House rules, as I suspect only a few members are strongly anti-Pelosi. Many House members have been marginalized as the Speakership gained enormous power at their expense. As we’ve seen with the recently released summary of draft revisions to the House rules and commitments around changing who serves on the committees, this fight likely is largely about the power of the rank-and-file to actually legislate — to write legislation that can go somewhere without leadership’s blessing, and to vote on more than a sanitized handful of amendments. This is where progressives have succeeded in getting concessions.

That’s not to dismiss the static nature of Democratic leadership, where the up-and-comers historically have left the House because of a glass ceiling. Nor is it to dismiss that new members of the House may have very different perspectives than their elders, including a willingness to embrace new tactics, to push the bounds of what’s politically possible, and a very different perspective on the world.

The Speakership isn’t the only contested electioneither. And it’s not the end of the process. There’s committee chairs and subcommittee chairs, plus the bidding process by which members join committees, and the committee rules drafting process. All this process stuff matters because it determines the slope of the playing field and what outcomes are possible.


House Democrats circulated a list of ideas they’re considering including in the House rules package (available from WaPo here) and asked members for feedback and new ideas as they draft the legislative text. They put their recommendations into these five buckets: the people’s voice, the legislative process, oversight & ethics, budget rules, and inclusion and diversity. Here are eight notable highlights:

— Require every bill that goes through the Rules committee to have a hearing and markup before it goes to the floor.

— Require bill text to be available for 72 hours before the bill can proceed on the House floor for a vote.

— Establish a select committee to improve the operation of Congress.

— Provide assistance and training to offices to properly and securely handle whistleblowers.

— Every committee must hold a Member Day hearing, where all Members can publicly present their legislative ideas and proposals

— Reform (unclear how) the motion to vacate the chair, which concerns how Speakers are deposed.

— Modernize how discharge petitions work.

— Make clear an NDA cannot prohibit a staffer from speaking to OOC, OCE, or the Ethics Committee.

The Dems identified the sources of many of these ideas. I’ve curated all the public-facing proposals I could find and linked to them at > resources. (If I’ve missed yours, let me know!) Among the outside organizations who participated in the process: Demand Progress; the Rebuild Congress Initiative; the Project on Government Oversight; Public Citizen; Make it Safe Coalition; the Bipartisan Policy Center; the Government Accountability Project; and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

Big picture fixes were proposed by Demand Progress in coalition with 20 organizations and 8 Congress experts in a white paper in September containing voluminous ideas for House rules reforms, with the underlying principles helpfully summarized in this very short letter.

How to fix intel oversight? 27 orgs released a letter on Friday on how the House Rules should be updated to improve oversight of intelligence matters. It’s pretty short, and this press release is even shorter.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, who co-leads the Reformers Caucus and is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, wrote a thoughtful piece in The Atlantic on how the House should reform its rules (and why they are broken). “The problem is a defective process and a power structure that, whichever party is in charge, funnels all power to leadership and stifles debate and initiative within the ranks.” His top line suggestions: change the congressional calendar, change how committee chairs are chosen, and streamline committee jurisdiction.

BTW, House Republicans voted on their conference rules, which we discussed last week. The new rules don’t appear to be up yet — they’ll likely be here — but Roll Call has the highlights. (1) A member must resign from leadership if they run for higher office. (2) Any member facing indictment for a felony with a 2 year sentence must resign from their committees. (3) Leadership must step aside if indicted for a felony. Republican rejected a proposal from Rep. Gallagher to allow committee members to pick their own chair/ranking members. Three proposals from Rep. Meadows were not considered.


Can one member change things? Last week Senator Flake said he wouldn’t vote for any more Trump judicial nominees until the bill to protect Special Counsel Mueller gets a vote. This was prompted by the possibly unlawful “temporary” appointment of Whitaker as DOJ head.

Want to add more members to the House? Matt Glassman estimates paying for 158 more members, as the NY Times proposed, would cost more than $315 million a year (plus $1 billion up front to build them all offices). Another way of looking at it: it’s 0.007% of overall federal spending annually. (Check my math, I’m a lawyer!) I’d rather spend the money on hiring more staff and paying them better.


Earmarks could make a comeback in the 116th Congress according to incoming Appropriations Committee Chair Lowey. But NTU questions whether we should pick winners and losers based on political muscle. Republicans banned the practice with a GOP conference-wide rule in 2010, but before earmarks were abolished there were a number of transparency provisionsgoverning how they operated, which made possible Taxpayers for Common Sense’s earmark database. Of course, earmarks may have gone away in name but not in practice, but bringing them back may distort incentives and power inside the chamber.

While the clock ticks on MeToo, Majority Leader McConnell said legislation overhauling how Congress deals with sexual harassment will be passed before the new Congress. McConnell’s announcement followed a letter from Congress Too, a group of former Hill staffers pushing the Congress to enact reforms.

The special panel tasked with overhauling the congressional budget process punted a final vote on recommendations to after Thanksgiving, cutting things awfully close to the November 30th deadline.


Democratic lawmakers are sending a message about what they want out of the 116th Congress with H.R. 1. The bill is unlikely to pass a Republican Senate or get Trump’s signature, but it sends a message on what can be expected if Democrats win the Senate and the White House in 2020.

What will Congress accomplish in the lame duck session? The Hill’s Jordain Carney’s five issues to watch include appropriations, leadership votes, and the rules process.

Sen. Grassley is leaving the Judiciary Committee; it’s likely Sen. Graham will take his place as chair.


POGO held an excellent conference on Oversight on Friday. C-Span has the two keynotes, and video of all the panels will be up soon.

A POGO investigation found that Congress has failed to enforce ethics rules for congressional fellows, who are funded by outside institutions but function as Hill staff.


Senate Minority Leader Schumer pressured fellow Democratic Senator Mark Warner to back off of his pursuit of Facebook earlier this year. Schumer received more money from Facebook employees than any other member of Congress in the 2016 cycle; the company also employs his daughter. Facebook funded anti-semitic smears to distract from its non-handling of Russian efforts to influence the election.

Legislatures that publicly hold members accountable for misconductenhance their “soft power,” which increases institutional prestige and empowers the branch as a whole.

K Street is trying to work its way into the hearts of freshmen members who swore off PAC money by using personal donations from executives, policy partnerships with think tanks and NGOs, and attending meet-and-greets. Nota bene: it’s unlawful for a company to reimburse its employees for political donations.

Departing Rep. Ruben Kihuen received the gentlest slap on the wrist from the House Ethics Committee despite finding “that Representative Kihuen made persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities.” What’s his punishment for multiple instances of unwanted physical and verbal advances? Reproval, i.e., a public statement. And yet, the women he harassed testified that this affected their careers. Read the appendix. Shouldn’t Kihuen suffer similar repercussions, or at a minimum be banned from the floor and the House gym when he becomes an ex-Member?

Rep. Mark Meadows was reproved by the House Ethics Committee and directed to repay the $40,625.02 his office disbursed to a former Chief of Staff, Kenny West; West was identified by multiple former staff as sexually harassing them, but was kept on for months after being removed from the COS role, and then paid another two months after he resigned as “severance.” The Committee found Meadows took some steps to protect his staff from West but should have taken more during the six months following his notification of the problem.


CRS published 17 new reports on its website in the week ending Nov. 13, bringing the total number of reports published to 1,271. Here the week’s can’t miss reports:

— Legislative Branch: FY 2019 Appropriations

— Lame Duck Sessions of Congress Following a Majority-Changing Election: In Brief

— Eight Mechanisms to Enact Procedural Change in the U.S. Senate


CNN reporter Jim Acosta won a motion for a temporary retraining order requiring the White House to rescind its revocation of his press credentials. The docket is online for free from RECAP. Unfortunately, the transcript of the opinion, which was rendered orally, will not be available for 3 weeks, but is summarized here and boils down to a lack of due process. The facts of the case are ably summarized here.

Julian Assange apparently was secretly charged with criminal behavior (we don’t know what), a fact that was inadvertently disclosed in a court filing. While few people have nice things to say about Assange, the charges raise real concerns about press freedom and a possible precedent that undermines investigative journalism.

ODDS & ENDS launched a new and improved version of their site last week.Speaking of LegBranch, check out their top reads on Congress.


The Democratic Senate leadership roster, which is unchanged: Democratic Leader & Conference Chair Schumer; Democratic Whip Durbin; Assistant Democratic Leader Murray; Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair Stabenow; Democratic Conference Vice Chairs Warren and Warner; Democratic Steering Committee Chair Klobuchar; Democratic Outreach Chair Sanders; Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Vice Chair Manchin; Democratic Conference Secretary Baldwin. Cortez Masto will lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. (Note: is it odd the Dem leadership doesn’t have a public press release on this?)

The Senate Republican leadership roster, note Cornyn’s departure as Republican Whip and Ernst’s addition: Republican Leader McConnell; President Pro Tempore Grassley; Republican Whip Thune; Republican Conference Chair Barrasso; Republican Policy Committee Chair Blunt; Republican Conference Vice Chair Ernst; National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Young.

The House GOP leadership for the 116th Congress, note Cheney is the #3 and McMorris Rodgers did not run: Republican Leader McCarthy, Republican Whip Scalise; Republican Conference Chair Cheney; National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Emmer; Republican Policy Committee Chair Palmer; Republican Conference Vice Chair Walker; Republican Conference Secretary Smith.


Both chambers are out for Thanksgiving recess.

— Thursday, November 29: the second FOIA Advisory Committee Meeting of the 2018-2020 term is happening from 10 to 1 at the National Archives and Records Administration

— Monday, December 3: Federal Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress meeting — Hosted by the National Archives and Records Administration at 10 in Capitol Visitor Center, SVC 210-212

— Friday, December 14: New Employee Ethics Training — H. Committee on Ethics at 2 in HVC-201 A and B, Capitol